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   Newsletter of the Indian Progressive Study Group, Los Angeles

                             August 1996

Whither India? Political Empowerment is the Necessity of our Times

(Excerpts from the presentation by Raj Mishra from the conference titled 
"Whither India" held in Los Angeles, April 13, 1996. The presentation 
refers to a pamphlet titled "Five Years After - the Next Step" that is 
the verbatim report of the keynote speech of the fifth annual conference 
of the AIPSG held in New York on November 18, 1995. The pamphlet is 
available from IPSG, LA or from the internet web site: www. 

This question "Whither India?" is not a new question in the minds of 
those of us who are dissatisfied with the existing conditions and are 
working for mobilizing people to transform the situation and open the 
door to progress. However, at this time, this question has acquired added 
significance because of the historic shift taking place on the world 
scale. The Cold War has ended after four long decades. That has removed a 
major obstacle for the advancement of people. During the bipolar division 
of the world, all organizations of people fighting for social, political 
or economic justice were forced to take sides with the "free world" or 
the "socialist camp".  None of these "sides" gave anything to people; 
such basic problems as one's livelihood and rights which belongs to one 
by virtue of being a human person still are matters to be resolved. The 
two super powers and their military blocks hijacked the struggles of 
people for these demands to benefit their geopolitical interests during 
the last four decades. In general, people could not overcome this 
obstacle and could not make any major advance. This obstacle has now been 
removed and the problem of social advance is on the agenda under new 
conditions. The question "Whither India?" is posed within these 
conditions; the problem of livelihood and the rights of people have to be 
solved and all obstacles to social advance in India have to be solved 
within these conditions.

Even though the bipolar division is gone, a number of problems inherited 
from that period still remain and these obstacles have to be overcome for 
people to make gains at this time. One such problem is the divisions 
among people, imposed by categorizing them and their organizations as 
"left' and "right", "liberal" and "conservative" or the likes, on the 
basis of dogmatic ideas and notions. Such divisions and notions do not 
help people to find their way within the present conditions to build a 
movement for social advance. Another negative habit standing on the way 
for people to build their movements is the passivity of people even in 
the face of grave dangers to society - a passivity inculcated by the 
superpowers so that they could carry on with the secret and open deals in 
their quest for world hegemony). Still another serious problem is that of 
people not being able to set their own agenda within the present 
circumstances. During the Cold War, many organizations came under the 
pressure of setting or adjusting their programs and actions to those 
dictated by the superpower politics. The new situation has created a need 
for every people to do their own thinking, analyze the events as they 
unfold, draw conclusions about what they are revealing and set their own 
agenda according to those requirements. This need can be fulfilled only 
on the basis of thorough-going effort in working out the political agenda 
within each country. It also requires renovation of other fields such as 
political and economic theory, philosophy and ideology, organization etc. 
in the course of a summation of all the positive and negative 
accomplishments of peoples.

Eurocentrism in South Asia

In India and South Asia, there has been an overgrowth of alien ideas and 
institutions in the last two centuries. All fields of knowledge and 
institutions of power in South Asia have continued the colonial legacy of 
catering to the needs of a minority ruling circle. The colonial powers 
set up European institutions and created a strata of society infused with 
an Eurocentrist value system to help maintain their colonial rule. For 
example, in philosophy and ideology, Eurocentrism reduced Indian 
philosophy to religious ideology and supplanted Anglo-American philosophy 
in its place to guide the economic and political developments. In 
politics, European theory of "trusteeship" and institutions based on that 
theory, dominated by political parties as gate keepers to power, took 
deep roots. In economics, capitalism and private ownership of productive 
property became the dominant forms. A capitalist state in the form of a 
trustee, outside the control of the polity, was imposed on India during 
the colonial rule. In practice, European social democratic methods became 
the mainstay. Political parties with lofty sounding policy objectives 
fought elections and formed governments to administer the "trust" (i.e. 
the Indian state), leaving people themselves with no role in the 
governance. All the movements of people which did not adjust their aims 
to the aims of the "trust" came under severe attack. In the face of such 
obstacles in theory and practice, people of India have been unable to set 
their independent agenda or chart an independent movement.

The problem of Eurocentrism is so acute that sooner the wave of 
privatization and liberalization began to be prescribed by the West about 
five years ago, India adopted those policies swiftly, by actions mainly 
of the executive branch of the government. It is almost five years later 
that a public debate on this question is beginning to take place. Who 
rules India - the will of people or the will of some power that is alien 
to people - has emerged to the forefront of concern in recent times. 
There is large scale production in India, there is modern technology in 
India, but this is wielded by and for a minority of the population. How 
will people of India take control of these forces that are already there 
but do not serve the interest of people? In other words, the question 
"Whither India?" encompasses in it the question how will people of India 
put themselves at this time at the center of all developments rather than 
remaining in the margins of decision making? How will they have the power 
to change their conditions?

The Association of Indian Study Groups (AIPSG) is one of the 
organizations among many that is active in developing this discussion. It 
has put all its energy towards modernizing Indian political theory and 
Indian philosophy. In addition, it is actively working to build the unity 
of people behind the task of renewing India, opposing state terrorism and 
individual acts of terrorism against anyone. A detailed summary and logic 
of the work of AIPSG for last five years is available from its fifth 
annual conference keynote speech.

Political Empowerment is the necessity of our times

This necessity emerges from the fact that we base our analysis and work 
on the present conditions. Within the existing system of elections and 
decision making mechanisms, people and their organizations have become 
incidental to the rule. The political power resides with the executive 
branch within the Westminister style Parliamentary system. With a system 
dominated by political parties - which in turn are organized and financed 
by the big industrial houses - can people accomplish anything without 
first working to shift the balance of power in their favor? The ruling 
circles keep people diverted through their illusion making tricks - lofty 
policy objectives - and stop any movement for social advance to be 
victorious. The illusion of someone else (some political party or the 
government) looking after the interests of people still prevents any 
serious movement from being victorious. People have to come to terms with 
this reality and recognize that they have no power and they themselves 
have to end this vicious circle. They will have to build their program 
and organization and work out tactics so that their movement is not 
hijacked or corrupted by impersonators on behalf of the status-quo! 
Building such a political movement will be the struggle for empowerment 
and first step in having political power.

Big industrial houses of India have themselves put forward their agenda 
through the Chamber of Indian Industry and Commerce or the Federation of 
Indian Industries etc. on the eve of the elections for the eleventh Lok 
Sabha. Political parties have put forward their agenda in the form of 
their manifestoes. These forces have power and they wish to use that 
power to implement that agenda after the elections! What is not very 
visible is that genuine organizations of people have no significant 
movement or agenda to arouse people against the dangers they have to 
overcome and tasks they have to carry out. Is not there a space here for 
people to put forward their claims on society - that the society must be 
organized so that such and such needs of people are met? The 
professionals and students all over India as well as those studying or 
working abroad have their aspirations and demands for a democratic and 
prosperous India. Should we not contribute our own thoughts and put 
forward our agenda as part of building the movement to realize those 
aims? The answer is certainly a yes, it is an act of empowering ourselves 
here and now.

What will some of the elements of such an agenda be? As a preliminary 
proposal, it will have electoral reform as a demand so that people can 
participate in governance. It will have a demand for reorganization of 
the Indian Union so that the aspirations of people fighting for national 
rights is dealt with. It will have a demand for a humane and pro-social 
policy so that vulnerable sections of the society can be assisted to 
raise their conditions rather than be attacked by any policy of cutbacks. 
It will have a demand to adopt modern notions on rights and duties of 
citizens so that problems of women or minorities can be sorted out and 
state terrorism or individual acts of terrorism can be eliminated. There 
will be many more such elements added to this short list as we begin this 
work, engage others in discussion and build a broad movement of people 
for India's advance.

There is a big task, posing a great challenge and at the same time 
offering a great opportunity. We are modern human beings, with 
consciousness and abilities capable of transforming the natural and human 
environment. Let us not be shy to use them to transform India that is a 
prison house for human development for hundreds of millions of people 
today. With a conscious plan and action, we will win.